Wednesday, 27 February 2019
|fuzzy route map|
Part of the space center is in the town of Greenbelt which, oddly enough, was begun as a planned community as part of the New Deal. It was built in 1936-37 and intended to be a co-op, with residents cooperatively farming nearby land and cooperatively running local businesses. It was used as a prototype for Greendale, Wisconsin, (near Milwaukee) and Greenhills, Ohio (near Cincinnati). I didn't really see any of the town, though, because I got to the space center first.
|NASA's Goddard Space Center Visitor Center|
|where NASA's work is done|
NASA's Goddard Space Center is named for Dr. Robert H. Goddard (1882-1945), considered the father of modern rocketry and credited with creating and launching the world's first liquid fueled rocket.
Most exhibits are in one main room, but off to the side they have what they call a Solarium, and it's not like the one people put in their homes. It's a very small room and very black and on one enormous wall they project photos of the sun - videos, actually, that show one video of the sun's surface for 18 seconds (I think) and then show a different video of the sun. You can't stand any farther away than about 8' so it's pretty much in your face.
I think my camera takes videos but have no idea how to do it, so all you get are still shots. But these were videos and showed the sprays that are coming off the sun's surface to be going right back in again.
The school kids were waiting for the buses to leave on the tour and a batch of them came in to the Solarium with me (and didn't bother to read the signs so I had to tell them what they were looking at to shut them up). Then there was a discussion among them about gravity because they were wondering why the sprays were going back to the sun's surface, and one kid said "gravity" and another kid said "there's no gravity in space" and another kid said "the sun's gravity makes the planets rotate around it" and so forth. It was pretty interesting to me.
But the video show was stunning. I couldn't stop watching.
They had an exhibit of lunar soil, that was actually simulated soil created at Goddard: the composition of the Moon's soil can interfere with thermal measurements of the Moon's surface we take from orbit, and it also caused problems for the Apollo astronauts by sticking to their space suits and getting into their living environment, so NASA developed this simulation to figure out how to deal with it.
They also have a Moon rock, and this was the real deal, not a simulation.
|Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter|
This jerry-rigged-looking thing is actually an exact replica of the LRO that's currently orbiting the Moon. It was designed and built at Goddard and is covered in a shiny thermal blanket made of Germanium Black Kapton® to protect it from space's temperature extremes.
They had a lot of information about the Hubble Telescope, with which they can see the equivalent of a dime from 86 miles away. A fact I find stunning. It orbits the Earth every 95 minutes.
|James Webb Space Telescope|
|explains the mirrors|
They intend to use the infrared light to look 13.5 billion light years in the past to see the first stars and galaxies formed. I don't understand how they hope to do this and nothing here explained it. My only guess is that they think either that those first stars are still there and still emitting light, or that the stars may be dead but the telescope will still be able to detect evidence of them.
They did say that starlight is only now reaching Earth after traveling 100 million years through deep space, so some stars we see now were created when dinosaurs were still here. (And dinosaurs were at Goddard, too, because they found a footprint on the grounds.)
|gravitational radiation, explained|
The scientific name for light is electromagnetic radiation. NASA scientists are aiming to detect gravitational radiation soon, though I didn't quite understand this either. But it sounds fascinating.
What I did understand is that the Webb telescope, including its platform, is so big it has to fold up like origami to fit inside the rocket that will carry it to space. And after it's launched it'll open up like a Transformer. Wonder who thought that one up.
|servicing the Hubble|
There have been 5 Hubble servicing missions between 1993 and 2009. This photo shows they bring the Hubble on board the shuttle to do the servicing.
There were 5 space shuttles and they flew a total of 135 missions between 1981 and 2011. They were the world's first reusable spacecraft.
|International Space Station|
They had exhibits of equipment that had actually been to space and used to build or service various components, and showed photos of astronauts hanging out in space doing this work. It was instantly clear to me that a successful astronaut candidate couldn't have a fear of heights.
I don't know what we'll be able to see when the Webb Telescope is functional, but the Visitor Center had some photos taken by the Hubble Telescope and I have a few of them here.
On the left is a photo of the center of the Milky Way Galaxy. The core of the galaxy is in the bright white area just off-center.
The photo on the right is a supernova bubble: a sphere of gas that's the result of gas being shocked by the expanding blast wave from a stellar explosion, i.e. a supernova (that would shock me too). This bubble is in the Large Magellanic Cloud, and the blast that created it occurred 400 years ago. Astronomers speculate the blast might have been visible in the Southern Hemisphere around 1600 AD.
The photo on the left is Spiral Galaxy NGC2841 (leading me to believe these guys need to come up with better names, like Fred or Ethel). The center of that galaxy is the bright spot of starlight, and spiralling outward are dust lanes, silhouetted against a population of whitish middle-aged stars. Younger stars are the blue dots along the spiral's arms.
They had a LOT more here, such as a whole section about the Earth's interconnected atmosphere and information about the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space programs.
They had bits of bizarre information like: one of our nearest exoplanets (orbits a star other than our Sun) is HD189733b (see what I mean about these names?) that is 63 light years away and has an atmosphere of 1,000° Celsius where it rains glass sideways in winds of 7,000 km/hour. Not hospitable.